The 2023 season should be the year where the question of whether it’s coaching or the roster that’s holding the Las Vegas Raiders back is answered. The football viewing world certainly saw plenty of questionable coaching guiding along an unproven roster during a disconcerting 6-11 2022 campaign.
This is where Dave Ziegler’s acumen as general manager will be tested — tremendously so. It’s all eyes on the Raiders top personnel man to build a winning roster in Las Vegas. That’s why he was brought in. He alongside head coach Josh McDaniels harped about bringing a championship standard back to the Silver & Black. And while they may get the Year 1 mulligan from owner Mark Davis, Year 2 isn’t going to be as forgiving.
It’s clear Ziegler and McDaniels overestimated the roster they inherited from the previous regime when they both joined the Raiders last offseason. While they swung big and hit a grand slam by acquiring wide receiver Davante Adams, the head coach and general manager took strike three looking with quarterback Derek Carr and are on the verge of an pop-fly out with running back Josh Jacobs. The whiff on Carr is going to result in either a trade or release of the former franchise signal caller. And it’s unclear if Las Vegas will commit long term to their workhorse tailback with a rich contract. Both with be figured out in due time. But those are the two top must-dos for Ziegler.
While the first-year general manager’s initial stint as chief personnel man wasn’t overly impressive, it’s still intriguing to see what he along with assistant general manager Champ Kelly can do with the resources afforded to them. The Raiders have a trio of draft picks int the top 100 — the No. 7, No. 38, and No. 70 overall picks — with six more in the later rounds. Perhaps even more arrive in the shape of compensatory selections. Kelly noted last season the Raiders would look for talent in a variety of places, both conventional and unconventional (power conferences, smaller schools, etc.).
The Raiders must find, acquire, develop and retain talent if they’re truly looking to bring back the championship standard that’s eluded the Raiders since 2002 (even then, the team failed to capture the ultimate prize of a Lombardi Trophy).
While quarterback is indeed a paramount position to focus on, adding more talent to a deficient defense holds high important, too. Looking at the defensive roster for the Silver & Black and it’s clear that marquee names were noticeably absent outside of edge rusher Maxx Crosby. There’s that hackneyed phrase “Defense wins championships” but for the NFL, its a dominant theme when it comes to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
From 2021 to the 2011 seasons, of the teams that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, all but three were in the top 10 in points allowed during the regular season. The outliers were the 2021 Los Angeles Rams (15th out of 32), the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (12th) and the 2011 New York Giants (25th).
Vying for AFC West supremacy, let alone a playoff spot and a Super Bowl appearance, requires the Raiders field quality defenders. And not get depleted so much the team has to trot out undrafted free agent Luke Masterson and practice squader/street free agent Harvey Langi at linebacker. Kudos to both Masterson and Langi for starting in the final games of the year but their presence speaks volumes about the lack of quality depth.
Then there’s addressing the trenches — on both sides of the ball. Plenty of work needs to be done on the Raiders offensive and defensive lines, too.
Ziegler and his staff will need to roll up their collective sleeves and get to grinding.
Trimming the fat and releasing former regime draft picks isn’t as difficult as the new regime building a team with draft resources and cap space.
We’ll see if Ziegler and his personnel crew can do just that this offseason.